Janet Blake: Our current two-tier system is costly and confusing
I'm grateful that Chris Williams has spoken out on unitary as AVDC has been thwarted in its attempts to stimulate discussion by the rest of the county.
A 2014 Bucks Business First report gave four options, concluding that doing nothing was not an option. The current system of district and county councils delivering different services is not cost effective, often lending itself to duplication and confusion. AVDC’s external research supported two workable unitaries in the county – one north, one south – but other districts had no appetite to progress talks. I read that some BCC councillors declined to vote for unitary in 2007 due to threat of de-selection, apparently putting self-interest in their own future before those of their residents.
I may not be part of any new Vale unitary, but what will matter is that authority’s ability to deliver a complete package of services (both district and county functions) in a satisfactory and cost-efficient manner. 89% of unitary authorities in England have been formed by district councils. AVDC serves a predominantly rural area that distinguishes it from the rest of the county and there’s certainly a case for members being democratically accountable for providing all council services. Buckinghamshire is diverse demographically and lends itself to a silo mentality; would county unitary members on the fringes of Slough have much affinity with issues affecting the far reaches of Buckingham? Generating income to support services is the answer for all councils and AVDC is already ahead in creating a viable commercial platform. This is especially significant for the Vale as future housing needs, including taking those of southern Bucks, will grow its population to around 250,000 over the next 20 years. Unitary status for the Vale would enable collaboration with surrounding unitaries to provide the best possible range of services at greater value for money in line with the government’s devolution proposals.